In a move that could further destabilize Israel’s coalition government, the Supreme Court here has lengthened the jail sentences imposed on several figures of the Shas party convicted on Wiretapping charges.
The court ruling came this week as the result of an appeal by the state, which considered the original sentences too lenient.
The ruling is seen in political circles as another blow to the already weakened links holding together the Labor Party’s coalition with the Shas party and the Meretz bloc.
Two top Shas party officials, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Raphael Pinhasi, have been given notice they will be indicted for financial improprieties if the Knesset strips them of their parliamentary immunity.
Their cases have already led to threats that Shas will abandon the Labor government. The latest Supreme Court ruling, involving other Shas officials, does little to alleviate fears of a defection by the haredi, or fervently Orthodox, party.
The court ruling involved three of six men convicted of illegally wiretapping a former chief of police and an investigative reporter, both of whom were looking into Deri’s financial dealings.
Most highly placed among them is Eli Tsuberi, a close aide to the deputy housing minister, Rabbi Aryeh Gamliel, also of Shas. Tsuberi will now serve eight months in prison instead of the three in the original sentence.
Reacting to the ruling, Gamliel said the state’s appeal was an example of the “relentless persecution and discrimination” perpetrated by the Justice Ministry and its various departments against Shas.
“Tsuberi deserves the Israel Prize” for exposing the plot against Shas by former Police Inspector-General Ya’acov Terner and journalist Mordechai Gilat, Gamliel said, referring to Israel’s most prestigious award.
PUNDITS SEE SHAS SECESSION LOOMING
Gilat, an investigative reporter for the mass-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, had been researching the police file on Deri.
His published allegations against Deri formed the basis of a three-year police investigation that has now resulted in a charge sheet against the minister.
Tsuberi refused throughout his trial to testify as to who had ordered the wiretap, saying he had taken a religious oath not to disclose any information.
The Supreme Court bench, convening as a High Court of Justice, said in its judgment that such an “oath” naturally raised a presumption that the accused had something to hide.
The court is currently hearing applications from various citizens’ groups seeking to remove Deri and Pinhasi from their ministerial positions.
The Knesset recently voted not to remove Pinhasi’s parliamentary immunity; it will debate Deri’s immunity next month.
Political observers believe that court decisions against both Deri and Pinhasi would lead fairly swiftly to Shas’ secession from the government.
Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has to date instructed the party, which holds six Knesset seats, to stay loyal to the government.
But Yosef has warned that if Deri and Pinhasi are removed from their posts, Shas will quit the governing coalition.
Gamliel has long advocated Shas’ secession from the government, and he reiterated his call following the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.
But he conceded that other party leaders “still have faith in the judicial system — though I do not. As far as I am concerned, we are in galut (exile) in Israel.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.